Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cake of the Week: Sweet Potato Cake with Molasses Buttercream

Fall is here! As of about a week ago a shockingly beautiful and balmy autumn came to an abrupt end and we are currently in the midst of a nor'easter, as the New Englanders say. The wind is blowing, the rain is falling, and my bike ride to and from school (and everywhere else I go) has become decidedly damply disagreeable.

We are also in the midst of our own personal nor'easter here at the Fletcher School. By that I mean, we're mid-semester and gusts of oh-jeez-it's-time-to-start-that are howling, the constant drip-drop of doodle polls (to schedule all the group meetings) are dampening our mood,  and every now and then a torrent of class to meeting to study group to job application to class to office hours pours on our heads, soaking our spirits and squelching our self-confidence.

But just like how in a real storm people are nicer, in this storm of work we are lucky to have each other! Friends tutor friends, hugs and high-fives are the norm, and every time someone says I don't think I'm going to make it, someone else says Yes you will!

This week was particularly bad for a few of my friends. There were some big scary mid-terms going on and by Wednesday afternoon everyone looked a mix of dazed and relieved and tired. So what did we do? Celebrate of course. And what did I bring? Cake well duh.

This recipe is all things fall -- slow roasted super-sweet sweet potatoes, spicy spices, and a molasses buttercream that I thought might be too much, but is really just right. The cake itself is very light, thanks to the beaten egg whites, and really does taste like sweet potatoes, not like wannabe pumpkin. And the frosting. Oh the frosting. I love molasses, so obviously this was great.

Sweet Potato Layer Cake with Molasses Buttercream

Adapted from Love and Olive Oil

For Cake:
  • 1 large sweet potatoes (about 1/2 lb)
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
For Frosting:
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar 
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup milk or cream, more or less as needed
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prick sweet potato in a few spots with a fork, then place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour, or until the potato is very soft and beginning to caramelize. Remove from oven and cool slightly.
  2. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 9-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper or a square of foil; butter and flour parchment/foil.
  3. When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel of the skins and remove any blemishes. Pulse in a food processor until smooth. Measure out 1 cup of puree (discard or reserve the rest for another use).
  4. In a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Set aside.
  5. In a large metal mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on medium speed until frothy. Gradually beat in /4 cup of sugar, increase speed to high, and beat until the egg whites form moderately stiff peaks.
  6. In another large mixing bowl, combine sweet potato, butter, vanilla, and remaining 2 cups sugar. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. With the mixer on low speed, add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, followed by 1/2 of the milk. Repeat with another 1/3 dry ingredients, remaining milk, and finally remaining dry ingredients, mixing until just incorporated.
  7. Using a large rubber spatula, fold 1/4 of egg whites into the batter to lighten it. Add the remaining egg white and continue to fold just until incorporated; be sure not to overmix the batter.
  8. Divide batter among prepared cake pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks and cool completely, at least 1 hour.
  9. For the frosting: in a large mixing bowl, beat butter on medium-high speed until smooth and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add molasses and beat until incorporated. Depending on the temperature and consistency of your frosting at this point, add milk or cream, 1 tablespoon at a time as needed, then continue beating until frosting is light and fluffy.
  10. Assembly: place one layer, flat side down, on a cake stand or serving platter. Spread on a layer of buttercream. Position second layer on top. Repeat with another layer of buttercream, and then position final cake layer, flat side up.
  11. Cover the entire cake with a thin layer of buttercream. This "crumb coat" will make frosting the cake easier. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes to allow this crumb coat to set.
  12. Remove cake from refrigerator and frost with remaining buttercream. I garnished the top with chopped almonds and cinnamon, just because.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Cake of the Week: Boston Cream Pie

Well here I am back again, for my sixth (and final!) academic year in Boston. Though this city is small, it is somehow big city famous for a number of things, most notably cold, colleges, clam chowder, the Charles, cannoli, and Boston Cream Pie. 

Until a couple weeks ago, however, I had never tried the city's signature dessert! (Except in undergrad dining hall, which is obviously not a great example of anything.) So for our innagural Wednesday dinner party of the semester, RoommateRachel made clam chowder and I experimented with pastry cream and made what I must say was a de-freaking-licious Boston Cream Pie, following the classic Omni Parker House Recipe. 

Let's talk about this "pie" for a bit, as it is confusing. First things first, Boston Cream Pie is not a pie at all. It is a two-layer sponge cake filled with pastry cream and covered in chocolate ganache. It originated at what was then the Parker House in downtown Boston in 1856. And here's a fun fact: the Boston Cream Pie has been distinguished as Massachusetts’ official state dessert over Toll House Cookies and the Fig Newton. That's some pretty stiff competition!

This recipe constituted a few firsts for me: my first sponge cake, and my first pastry cream. Both turned out excellent. The sponge cake is shockingly simple and really delicious -- just some eggs and flour and sugar. And the pastry cream, OH THE PASTRY CREAM. That is all.

Some notes about the recipe: since I have to work with the pans I have, instead of making the cake in a 10-inch pan (who has that??), I did two layers in 9-inch pans. Also, the original recipe made about twice as much pastry cream than was needed. The recipe below is adapted to be what you should do. The original recipe I adapted from is here.

Boston Cream Pie

Sponge Cake:
  • 7 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
Pastry Cream:
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon dark rum (or vanilla)
Chocolate Ganache:
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds for garnish
  1. For the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. Separate egg yolks and whites in large bowls. Add ½ of the sugar to each bowl. Beat the whites until stiff peaks form, and beat the yolks until they look light in color. 
  3. Fold the whites into the yolk mixture. Gradually fold in flour with a spatula. Fold in the butter. Pour this mixture into two 9-inch round greased cake pans. 
  4. Bake  for about 20 minutes, or until spongy and golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool fully.
  5. For the pastry cream: In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the butter, milk, and light cream to a boil. 
  6. While this mixture is cooking, combine the sugar, cornstarch and eggs in a bowl and whip thoroughly. 
  7. When the cream, milk, butter mixture reaches the boiling point, slowly whisk in the egg mixture and cook to boiling. Boil for one minute. 
  8. Pour into a bowl and cover the surface with plastic wrap. Chill overnight if possible. When chilled, whisk in 1 tsp. dark rum or vanilla. 
  9. For the ganache: once cake and pastry cream are completely cool, immediately before assembling the cake, heat cream in the microwave until it's very hot but not boiling. Add in chocolate chips and let sit for one minute. Stir until smooth.
  10. Assembly: This one's pretty straight-forward. Spread pastry cream in a thick layer on top of the first cake. Top with the second cake. Spread ganache over the top and sprinkle the top and sides with slivered almonds. The cake will look messy. It's supposed to. And trust me, no one will care. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The State of Mollie: October 2014

Well it's official, I have finally succeeded in overloading myself. Just one month in the second year of grad school is craaaaazy and I am a wee bit overwhelmed. I feel like I have been doing many things, everything, all the things all the time, which explains my month-long internet absence. But I miss blogging (aka writing for fun), so here I am back again!

To be clear, for the most part all the things are mostly good things that I am interested in and want to do. So, other than busy, what is the State of Mollie?

Well on the school front (I will keep this brief so as not to bore you), second year woohoo! I am taking four very interesting classes this semester -- internal wars, gender in conflict, corruption in post-conflict peacebuilding, and big data for strategic decision-making. Basically, if it has "conflict" in the title I'm there. I'm also auditing a French class three days a week just for funsies. I'm also working as a research assistant for one of my professors, and also as a writing tutor (making the monies, like ya do), and also as an editor of this journal. I also have a thesis to write and a job to find...gah enough stop pressuring me!

Apple crisp with homemade cinnamon ice cream!

But the great thing about second year is that you come back and already have friends, and therefore can really hit the ground running on the social front. I've been trying my best not to say no to any social invitations, which at some point will become unsustainable but for now is quite fun. Back-to-school has also meant back to weekly Wednesday Dinners, and ooooh I have some recipes to share with you! Boston cream pie. Apple tart with pastry cream. Apple crisp and homemade cinnamon ice cream. More on that later...

Kyle visited from Azerbaijan, so of course we went to a brewery.

On the weekend report front (oh dear oh my so much too much to report!), last weekend a big group of school friends went to New Hampshire to rock climb and hang in the beautiful White Mountains. We climbed at Rumney and it was awesome!

Speaking of New Hampshire, a couple weeks ago a different group of school friends -- 24 total -- did the Reach the Beach Relay Race and it was awesome! We started Friday morning at Cannon Mountain, and 207 miles and many many hours (approximately 29) later were at Hampton Beach. I ran 19 miles total, at an average of just under 7-minute pace. Considering the MOUNTAINS I ran at approximately 6pm and 3am, I'm pretty pleased with that.

Which brings me to running. In the wake of that most fun relay, we all got excited about running (obviously I am always excited about running) and signed up for the Baystate Half Marathon on October 19th! So I've been "training" -- doing some long runs, a couple workouts, ya know the usual. I've never done a half marathon before, so I'm pretty excited.

In addition to running, I renewed my rock gym membership and have been going to climb and stretch it all out with yoga a couple times a week. Clearly my "so busy" involves more extracirriculars than perhaps it should...but what can I say? I love fun activities.

In conclusion, the State of Mollie as of October 2014 is strong.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Travels in Turkey: Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia

Cappadocia is an adventure out of Dr. Seus's imagination.

Today is your day.
You're off to great places!
You're off and away!
You'll be on your way up!
You'll be seeing great sights!
You'll join the high-fliers
who soar to high heights!

After a night on the bus from Fethiye, I looked out the window into the 7 am sunlight. The hilly dry Northern California coast-like landscape had transformed to a sweeping vista of even hillier even dryer Central Valley-like golden hills (clearly someone is homesick and has CA on the brain). As we descended into the Goreme Valley however, things took a turn for the weird. The hills were suddenly interspersed with giant sandstone pillars, and the washes off the giant mesa above the town reached their fingers into the landscape.

Shepherded off the bus we were immediately put into a car and two minutes later were at out hostel, which was literally built into the rocks. Morning glories and bougainvillea and roses are everywhere you go (which would explain all the rose flavored turkish delight and perfumes and soaps here). And stone of course -- everything is made of stone. After a delicious breakfast (bread, roasted eggplant spears, and big slices of fresh feta = yummm), our tour van picked us up for the day.

I'm not an organized tour person (at all), but in the case of Cappadocia it seemed like the best way to go. The sights are spread out far, so besides renting a car, there's really no other way to do it.

We started the day at a tower of cave churches built into cliffs. The area was inhabited by ancient Christians who were being persecuted by the Romans (or whomever else was invading at that point), so they built they homes and places of worship where no one could find them.

If you know me at all, or have been a Eat Run Read-er for a while, you know how much I love scrambling over rocks. Climbing into high up caves, clambering to ledges, and peering over edges -- i.e., the entire Cappadocia region -- is my jam.

Next stop was the Ihlara Valley, which is a deep canyon also full of ancient churches. We did a little (4k) hike along the bottom and had lunch along the stream at the end and it was lovely.

Third (and final major) stop that day was an underground city. It was HUGE -- a series of eight floors of caves and caverns and hallways and rooms. And there are many many more caves of this city that you can't go into, or haven't yet been excavated! On the bright side, it was nice to be underground and out of the hot sun. On the less bright side (literally), I am not a huge fan of caves so the underground city was fine but not my fave. Once you've seen one in a series of caves, you've pretty much seen them all...

And I have to share this part -- that night our hostel room was in a cave. As in, Kathryn and I climbed up a very scary ladder drilled into the rock and found two nice mattresses on the floor of a spacious well-lit cave, pleasantly separate from our hostel-mates.

Alright so the next morning was the BIG EVENT that everyone does: a sunrise hot air balloon ride. We were picked up at 4:30 am and shuttled to an office waiting area where blurry-eyed tourists sat quietly (I repeat: 4:30 am) awaiting whatever came next. They soon put us back into vans by balloon pilot. In the pre-dawn light we drove on a dirt road through the rock pillars and hills but then eventually realized that many of what we thought were hills were actually hot air balloons, slowly slowly inflating like giant elephants waking up.

We watched others and our own inflate, and then were told to climb in. The take-off (and the entire ride actually) was completely smooth and gentle. Our balloon rose to join those a few minutes ahead of us, and watched others take off below us. The sight was surreal: a slow moving invasion of tourists, all neatly contained in large baskets of 20 and propelled slowly slowly 500 feet above the ground by giant colorful balloons.

The ride in total was 45 minutes. Our pilot took us up and down with the air currents, flying over pumpkin vines and pistachio trees and phallic pillars (you know you're thinking the same thing). 

We saw the sun rise over the mesa, getting a complete view of Goreme, and finally touching down in a vineyard. I could not be happier -- what a magical way to spend a morning!

And since that started so early, we still had a full day ahead of us. Day 2 was the "red tour," which is mostly sights close to Goreme. It was a lot of ok get into the van, ok now get out, ok now back in....but I can't get over how cool the high caves and rock formations are!

My favorites were the open air museum...

...and wherever this was (Imagination Valley maybe?)...

...and this last stop because I very definitely climbed up everything. Kathryn is a great travel buddy because she fully supports, encourages, and often documents any and all antics. 

In conclusion, Cappadocia was amazing, and hot air ballooning might be the coolest thing I've ever done, and this blog post is way too long, and we did even more things than I told you about here, but basically you should just go and see for yourself. 

Next stop: Istanbul!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Travels in Turkey: Beach Time in Fethiye

After a summer of fun (and also a lot of work) in DC, my adventure itch started itching, the travel bug bit, that overwhelming urge to visit all the places took effect, and the wide world called — To Turkey it said!

My good friend Kathryn had already planned her trip, so the logistics were already taken care of. Just a bit of time online booking and I was ready to go.

After a very loooong travel experience, and a run-in with the WORST TRAFFIC IN THE WORLD (if you happen to do what I did: fly into Attaturk International, then take a bus across the city to get on a domestic flight out of Sabiha Gökçen, know that it takes 3-4 hours to get across the city), I arrived in Fethiye around midnight. I could regale you further with the struggles of multiple-mode of transportation international travel, but let's take a moment for perspective: I sat on many chairs in the sky, most of this experience involved A/C, people brought me food, and I traveled half-way around the world in just 36 hours. Technology is amazing guys, never forget it.

So anywho, I was thrilled to see Kathryn, who had been working in Geneva all summer and weekend tripping all around Europe (oh the life). I crashed pretty hard immediately upon arrival, but was all kinds of ready to go the next morning.

I awoke to a beautiful view of the harbor and a very Turkish breakfast of crusty bread, hunks of feta, some other white cheddar-ish cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, and hard-boiled eggs. There's nothing like a breakfast view, and our hostel (Fethiye Guesthouse, highly recommend) definitely had that.

We took our first day easy at the beach. Blue Lagoon is the famous one, so we hopped on a mini-bus and were soon there, marveling at what a great blue color the water was! The day was hot and the water was just cool enough to be refreshing so we spent it all there. Perfection.

That evening we meandered around town, obtaining the requisite baklava.

The next day was our "sporty" day and we started it (after beautiful breakfast of course) with a short hike up to the cave tombs above the city. If you know me at all, you know that any day I can scramble up some rocks is a good day. So into the tombs we went.

Continuing with our activity, we decided to hike up the mountain above town along the Lycian Way. We didn't go far enough to see any epic views, but it was a nice (and very sweaty) adventure nonetheless.

"It is dangerous to climb on the rock and forbidden." Whoops. 

The day ended with a beach sunset (we are on the most romantic Turkish vacay ever), and the BEST dinner of the whole trip. Seriously, if you find yourself in Fethiye, go to Mozaik Bahce.

Lamb Kebabs
Mezze Platter.

On our last day in Fethiye we took a boat from the Blue Lagoon to Butterfly Valley. We "hiked" up to see the canyon waterfall (it was less than a half-mile), then hung out on that beach for a while.

Butterfly Valley

We'd booked paragliding along the coast for that afternoon, which would have been AMAZING, but tragically it was too windy and our trip was canceled. So instead we got smoothies and enjoyed our last couple hours on the beach.

That night, armed with snacks and comfy clothes, we boarded an overnight bus to Cappadocia. Turkey to be continued...